Sneak Attacks and Defense Rolls

Is there a rule that either allows or prohibits a stress die roll to determine a character's Defense Total if the character is unaware of the impending attack, such as an assassin's dagger or sniper's arrow?

I've looked through the Combat section of ArM5 a couple of times now and am not seeing anything, but I thought there was a rule regarding this question. I've been disallowing a roll and calculating Attack Advantage based on the Attack Total only for sneak attacks, but I got called on it and couldn't back it up with a rule.

If there is a roll, are there any negative modifiers or components that aren't added? Weapon Ability for one?

I think you are right that such a rule doens't exist.

In instances alike this one I've so far ruled that the target only gets to roll for the defence and that no scores are added. I know this carry the risk of a high stress roll foiling the attack, but it might as well be low or outright botch (I add extra botch die to such a roll - especially for targets that would otherwise have zero or less in their defence score). After all, how can someone use their skills to defend themselves if they do not know they are being attacked? On the other hand setting a fixed number might be more appropriate, but I think I reach two goals by the other method of a die result only (and on the other hand translating the Attack Total directly to Attack Advantage is too harsh) - it removes the pain of figuring a fixed number in various circumstances and it involves the targeted PC's player - risk is always a bit more real when as undescriminating as a die.

I have to add that the combat rules are one of the few things I don't really like about 5th edition, so this is far from dogma, and the troupe intends to make a range of house rules covering combat at sometime soon.

There is a rule for a similar situation in HoH: Mystery Cults, pages 42, under the Ambush Predator Quality (which is the unfinished paragraph at the start of Page 42).

I basically use that rule for all sneak attacks.

For those who haven't got the book it grants you automatic initiative and +3 on your Attack Total the first round.

Not a whole lot.

I tried to have a weasel catch a rat. It didn't go well... between the Qik bonus and the Str malus, it's almost impossible. The only chance is pretty much to try tripping the target on the first round (there aren't rules for attacking tripped targets either, so I dropped Qik from the defense total). sigh.

The problem, I think, is that every version of Ars Magica basically re-writes the combat rules. So although Magic system 5.0 is excellent, we are using Combat 1.0, or maybe 2.0, I wasn't part of the playtest.

Regardless, the magic rules have been refined for what, almost twenty years? (Boy, that makes me feel old.) And the Combat system hasn't had the kinks worked out of it. I don't know if/when a Combat book will be written, but I think it will put some patches on this very basic system.

I don't have a problem with the rules as written. I've struggled with some of the previous versions, so I can appreciate their improvements. Combat only happens once out of every two or three adventures, in the troupes in which I've played, so it's not that important--to me.

No defense roll.
Give the attacker a bonus equal to his/her/its attack ability.

We have found giving the defender a roll for failing to notice the target should be punished...The rest of the combat system is very dangerous, so we felt this is justified.

Spend more points on Perception/Awareness or on protections, when you make your next character.


No defense roll or no Defense Total? Why allow Quickness and a Combat Ability to affect whether the character is hit or not? The world's most accomplished swordsman (Single Weapon score 10) and Bob the Grog (score 1), ceteris paribus, are both going to suffer the same fate from an unseen sniper's arrow to the back, right?

I'd use a defense total of stress die + 0, just to give the player a sense of control over the character's fate. And the +3 to sneak attacker quoted earlier.

And if the sneak attack was by way of melee, I'd probably have the attacker exert himself as well, for a doubled weapon skill.

Can missile attackers use the exertion rule? I'd house rule no. (Except in the case of a boulder-tossing giant, of course :wink: )

No sure what you are asking...

A Defense Total is comprised of a stress die roll + Quickness + Combat Ability + Weapon Defense Modifier. There is no "defense roll." Are you referring to the stress die rolled in the Defense Total? I was asking if you meant the unaware character had a zero for his Defense Total or if you meant the character's Defense Total is calculated as if he rolled a zero (non-botch) on his stress die roll.

The reasons posted above is why you find more house rules for combat around the net than for any other bit of the setting or system.

We have our own system, under version 6 right now, evolved out of Jerome Darmont's Ars Magica Simplex system. In fact we tend to play only the rules for magic and advancement as written. The rest is pretty much sop full of HR that I wonder sometimes if we really play ars magica or if we play in the ars setting only..



Okay, just to do it from basics - even if I don't particular like the combat mechanics as they are (I do love the wound system though). 5th edition did loose a lot of complexity and detail from earlier - some of it probably for the better - and we are missing rules for a number of circumstances that often arise during physical conflicts. Without making assumptions on everybodys behalf I do think that a fair share of us feel we need more on this and that a future book hopefully and expectedly will address it.

The basics:
Attack Total is Dex + Ability + Weapon + Die
Defense Total is Qik + Ability + Weapon + Die
I do not know if others follow the same practice but I tend to call the fixed elements, which is regularly anything but the stress die, for the respective Score (Characteristic + Ability + Weapon).

There are presumably endless ways to address the issue of surprise, so bear with me if I only list a few here.

You could:[i]*Ignore it. Keep it simple and don't change anything from a regular round of skirmish. Describe the carnage but dont get caught in any rule adjustment. Some feel it is easier to tell the story with less distractions from rules.

*You could grant automatic initiative to the attacker and disallow the defender an attack so that the defender can only defend for the first round.

*You could grant a bonus to the attackers Attack Total;
[list]a. either as a fixed bonus,
b. as a varying bonus (e.g. a 'Stealth' Advantage decided by opposed rolls prior to the ambush),
c. or as letting him add his Ability twice (but without the Fatigue loss)
*You could give a penalty to the defenders Defence Total;
a. either as a fixed penalty,
b. as a varying penalty,
c. or by disallowing him all or parts of his regular Defense Total (The Qik, the Ability, the Weapon, the Die roll, or a combo of these)
*You could entirely change the defenders Defence Total with a generic Ease Factor.

*You could add a considerable amount of extra botch die in case of a '0'. Particularly on the defenders roll, but an ambush can certainly also be a risky part on the attacker - even if you have the upper hand it is harder to predict people's moves when they are startled.

*Or you could just do it as some animals do (as Fruny pointed out that the HoH:MC mentions - he is the one with the bunny, alright!) and grant automatic initiative and +3 to the Attack Total the first round. And then perhaps ignore why natural predators can't catch their natural prey.[/i][/list:u]

One problem is that many of these things hinges on more general concepts which aren't in the combat system right now. But in the end this is most of all a challenge considering what stories you'd like to tell? Tales of grining taunting swashbucklers who always gets to snatch their swords out in time or is it about grim streets where every muddy shadowy corner might hide a dagger intended for your back?

Those where the options I could think of just now. From the above suggestions on how to rule it I know what I'd prefer and what I wouldn't...

How about adding the difference between the stealth+dex roll of the attacker and the awarness+per of the defender...

I think it is a reasonable solution - it was also what I had in mind with the so-called 'Stealth Advantage' on the list above.

Since I attempted to make the expansive list I've now been considering what I'd like to use myself. Although I at first liked the idea of such an advantage I am kind of turning away from it - as I basically think there is a limit to what stealth can do for you. Attack with surprise does do a lot in your favour, but there is a limit to what degree it makes you lethal if you do not already have the capacity to harm such as a weapon and skills with it (or natural weaponry for animals).